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Remarks by His All Holiness Ecumencial Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW during the Luncheon Given in His Honor by the Officers of Scenic Hudson Environmental Organizations (November 13, 2000)

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Your Eminence and beloved Brother-in-Christ, Archbishop Demetrios of America,
Friends, representatives of Scenic Hudson,
Distinguished guests and luncheon participants,

I am grateful to you, Mr. Bill Rilley, a beloved friend of the environment and of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and a friend of mine.  You have traveled a great distance to follow the Ecological Seminars held at our Theological School on the island of Halki.  I rejoice that now I have the occasion to return your visit and to participate, together with you, in this wonderful event.  Also, I feel deeply honored by the presence, even short, of Governor Pataki, who generously honored me with a luncheon during my visit of 1997 to the U.S.A., and who also was present at the Divine Liturgy celebrated at Madison Square Garden.

Distinguished guests, I greet all of you with great joy.  For whatever reason you may be present, either because you work together with Scenic Hudson, or because you are connected with Orthodox Christianity, you share the love and respect toward God’s creation.  I assure you that the Church loves and respects you and your work on behalf of the environment.

In events such as this, one clearly speaks on behalf of the bestower, but also on behalf of the recipient of the award.  The Scenic Hudson organization, known for its effort to protect Storm King Mountain, was one of the first voices of environmentalism in this land.  Thirty years later, it still remains one of the most efficient organizations of its kind.  We wish you many years of fruitful service in this critical and vital issue for all mankind.

For many years, the Orthodox Ecumencial Throne has devoted itself to the service of the protection of the environment.  With great interest and sincere anxiety, we have followed the efforts to address the destructive side effects of humanity upon the world of nature.  These effects have a negative influence upon human beings themselves.  With much fear we realize the dangerous consequences of human apathy concerning the survival of Creation, including the survival of humankind itself.

It is for this reason that I accept this award in the name of my illustrious predecessor, Patriarch Dimitrios.  He is the one who invited the entire world to offer, together with the Holy Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, prayers of thanksgiving, but also of petition regarding the protection of God’s gift of Creation.  Thus, as of 1989, the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year, September 1, has been designated for all Orthodox Christians as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment.

Beyond any stereotype, the following question is absolutely justified: in what way can Orthodoxy contribute to the movement for the protection of the environment?  By the grace of God, there is one concrete answer.  We believe that through our unique liturgical and ascetical ethos, the spiritual teaching of the Orthodox Church may provide an important theological and deontological direction for the care of our planet earth.

The spiritual root of our pollution, our sin against the world, consists in our refusal to face life and the world as God’s gift to humankind, which humans have to utilize with discernment, with respect, and with thanksgiving.  In the Orthodox Church, we call the “Mystery (or Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist”, in thanksgiving to Christ for the entire Creation.  We do this out of gratitude to Him, who was crucified on behalf of the world; we do this in the framework of the Eucharistic celebration, during which his sacrifice on the Cross is repeated in a sacramental way.  “We offer thine own gifts, from thine own gifts,” we exclaim when we offer the bread and the wine, parts of the natural Creation, in order to be changed by the Holy Spirit to become the Body and Blood of Christ, which are the gifts of our continual communion with God.

Thus, we believe that our first duty is to stimulate the human conscience to realize that when humans utilize the resources and the elements of our planet, they do this devoutly and in a Eucharistic way.  Ultimately, to the benefit of our posterity, we should consider every act through which we abuse the world, as having an immediate negative effect upon the future of our environment, in which our prosperity will live.  The heart of the relationship between humans and their prosperity is to be found in the relationship between humans and their environment.  The way in which we face our environment reflects upon the way we behave toward one another; more specifically, it reflects upon the way in which we relate to our children, those born and those who are yet to be born.

Human beings and the environment compose a seamless garment of existence, a multi-colored cloth, which we believe to be woven in its entirety by God.  As human beings, we are created by God as spirits, in which spirit resides the image of God (Genesis 1:26).  However, as bodies, we are created from material nature, from dust of the earth.  Consequently, we are called to recognize this interdependence between our environment and ourselves.  This interconnectedness between us and our environment lies at the center of our liturgy.  Saint Maximos the Confessor, during the seventh century, described this liturgy as being beyond a divine or mere human liturgy.  We cannot avoid our responsibility toward our environment and toward our fellow human beings, who are negatively affected by its deterioration.

In the Orthodox Church, there is also the ascetical element, which requires willful restraint regarding the use of material goods, and which leads to a harmonious symbiosis with the environment.  We are required to practice “restraint” (the theological term in Greek is egkrateia).  When we curb our own desire to consume, we guarantee the existence of treasured things for those who come after us, and the balanced functioning of the ecosystem.  Restraint frees us from selfish demands, so that we may offer what remains and place it at the disposal of others.  This is the result of our freedom from avarice, which has its roots in the lack of faith, and the making of a god out of matter, which we consider idolatry.  Restraint is an act of self-control and confidence in God; but is also an act of love.  There are Christians who voluntarily deprive themselves of their due portion, and use restraint in order to share with those who have a greater need.  This ascetical spirit gives us the example, according to which we may live by being satisfied with what is needed, without collecting needless things, without consumerism, which lead to exploiting and lording it over nature.

This willful ascetical life is not only required of the anchorite monks.  It is also required of all Orthodox Christians, according to the measure of balance.  Asceticisim, even of the monastic sort, is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered utilization of the world.

It was truthfully stated, that a human being who has lost the self-consciousness of his divine image created in the likeness of God, and who has lost his divine destiny; in a word, he has lost his self-esteem as a human being which reflects the image of God and tried to make up for this loss by increasing the material goods over which he has control.  Because his “being” is lessened, he increases his “having.”  Consequently, the consciousness that a Christian has of his own existence, makes superfluous the need for consumerism and his accumulation of material goods.  For this reason Saint John of the Ladder said: “a monk who has no possessions is the master of the world,” and Saint Paul recommends the avoidance of avarice when he writes: “as we have food and clothing, let them suffice to us” (1 Timothy 6:8).

Therefore, Orthodox ascetical life, is not an escape from society and the world, but a way of self-sufficient social life and behavior, which leads to the reasonable use, and not the abuse, of material goods.  The opposite view in life leads to consumerism, excessive drawing from the productive ecosystem, reversal of its balance, its destruction, and, in the long run, inability to survive and thus destroys the environment of our fellow human beings.  The Orthodox ascetic attitude seems to be passive and not an impressive method to face environmental problems.  However, as the individual actions of tens of thousands of members of society produce great pollution, so their willful restraint creates a great benefit for all.  Repentance over our past mistakes regarding the environment is indispensable and useful.

Unfortunately, humanity has become intoxicated by its technological possibilities and behaves tyrannically toward the environment.  To a great degree, humankind ignores the fact that silent nature takes revenge, although slowly, and almost unnoticeably, but inevitably surely.  The sense that our planet earth has been given to all humanity and to all ages, does guide its actions.  Avarice and excessive exploitation, with no regard for their consequences, are a usual phenomenon.

If we were behaving toward the possessions of our fellow human beings, in the same way we behave toward the environment, we would have suffered legal sanctions and restoration for damages.  Our behavior would have been characterized as anti-social.  We would have used legal remedies to restore the damages and return the stolen property to its legitimate proprietor.

From the declarations of human rights we gather that, on the one hand most of the environmental goods, like air, water and the like, are not able to become private property and, on the other hand, their possession demands a proportionate canonical obligation, which cannot be ignored.  Whatever use by the possessor, which is opposed to the social obligation and usefulness of this good, is prohibited as abusive and is subject, or should be subject, to legal sanctions.

The imposition of these sanctions does not belong to the competence of the Church, which addresses itself to the self-consciousness of man and requires his willful compliance.  This compliance is accompanied by the obvious alarm that its disrespect constitutes a sin against the love for God and man and against God’s Creation.  According to Scripture, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  At this point, this is confirmed from the everyday experience of the chain reactions of the environmental destruction: changes in the climate, the stripping of the earth of its forests, torrential rainfalls, floods, mudslides; the consequence is death.  Atomic explosions, radioactivity, cancerous births; the consequence is death.  Toxic wastes; pollution of the air, water, and the ground; introduction of toxic substances into the cycle of life; the consequence is death.  Dispersion into the atmosphere of gases that damage the ozone layer; augmented infrared radiation, damage of health, this, too, leads to death.

For all these deaths, which are our own doing in a direct way, and of which we are not conscious that we are the cause, in our prayers we ask for God’s forgiveness.  Our responsibility for whatever happens around us is an unavoidable given.  We not only destroy the beauty of created nature, but we also kill our fellow human beings.  To remedy the situation, we should become conscious of this great sin, and allow it to become an important motivation to ameliorate our environmental behavior, and lead us to a systematic effort that the truth of our common responsibility may become increasingly socially acceptable.

Then, perhaps we will begin to responsibly participate as individuals with conscious choices either in the context of the entire Creation, or in our own souls.

For all these reasons we address ourselves to the leaders of the world and pray that they take the necessary measures so that the catastrophic changes of climate, caused by human activity, may be reversed.  We should propagate an ecological ethic, which should remind us that the world is not ours for us to use as we please.  It is a gift of God’s love to us.  We must return that love by protecting it with whatever responsibilities it may entail.

This common purpose unites all humanity, as all the waters of the world are united.  In order to save a sea, we must save all rivers and oceans.  God created heaven and earth as a harmonious totality; consequently we also have to face creation as a harmonious and interdependent whole.  For us at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the term ecumenical is more than a name: it is a worldview, and a way of life.  The Lord intervenes and fills His creation with His Divine Presence in a continuous bond.  Let us work together so that we may renew the harmony between heaven and earth, so that we may transform every detail and every element of life.  Let us love one another.  With love, let us share with others everything we know and especially that which is useful to educate godly persons so that they may sanctify God’s creation for the glory of His holy Name.

As a symbol to remind us of this responsibility, in which each of us must do our part so that we may keep our natural environment as it has been handed down to us by God, we present you with this piece of parchment with the inscription from the Holy Scripture of God’s order to the first created people placed in the Garden of Eden, which was, to “work and keep” the garden.  This is also our message addressed to every human being.  Let everyone work to produce material goods from nature; but also, let him keep its integrity and keep it harmless, as God commanded human beings to do.

May his grace and abundant mercy be with you all, with your families, and with all your noble endeavors.  Amen.